A view of Veppo (5.3 km from Borseda)
The town of Veppo
In mid-July Borseda is ripe with plums that overhang from trees along the road. Tomato vines climb sticks set in a triangular shape, their fruit just ripening, many not yet red. It is morning. Birds sing and roosters announce the news. One of my neighbors, Maria waves at me from her garden where she is picking basil. From where I sit, I can see the houses that border the end of the street. Many are empty now, but fill up on the weekends when their owners take a respite from work. In the distance I can see the mountains and scattered villages.
A few days after arriving I take a short walk that meanders through gardens, an old pilgrims path. Now and then I see a shrine, a statue of Mary and Jesus, a saint. Farther along, I can see views of more mountains, another garden. There's grain for hay, fruit trees, lettuce. On my way back, I see men and women in the field—the men scything the hay, shirtless and donned with straw hats—as if from an impressionistic painting come to life. Experiences like this have are now common for me in Borseda and the villages in the valley of Calice, in which it is nestled, yet I constantly wonder if I'm in a dream. I write to friends and family in disbelief of my life in Borseda, hoping that through the telling I'll be able to believe experience and that I haven't eaten an enchanted plum or wished on a magic ruby mistaking it for a stone.
On my second Sunday in Borseda, I walk to Veppo with a new friend, Donna. She is an artist from Virginia who in the summer lives with her husband in Santa Maria, a village two over from me. We reach Veppo in under an hour. It opens to the other side of the mountains. From here you can see the sunset, unlike Borseda as the landscape is expansive and faces westerly. We look down the hill to farms, grape vines, the church whose bells ring in the hour. The alps are in the distance. More plum trees line the road, blackberry bushes, wild mint. We see goats in a pasture, a garden ripe with pepper and tomato vines, lettuce, green beans. This Sunday Veppo is celebrating a saint. (I still do not know her story, so it will have to wait for another post.) A small church has opened its doors in honor of the saint. The rest of the year, its doors are shut. Later, when I walk to the church to use the bathroom, it's empty. It's heavy with the aroma of burning wax candles commingling with the scent of stone, and a kind of piety and reverence only found in village churches in which the villagers have worshiped for centuries.
Those who have come to celebrate and eat at the festival—of course there is eating!—sit at tables set in a grove of trees. Some are preparing ravioli, plates of salami, cheese. Donna and I order and wait with the others for il cibo, the food. And when it comes the plates are overflowing. Even though we share, I cannot finish it all. We drink wine, then coffee, then grappa and more grappa. And after a few hours of jovial conversation I find myself in the passengers' seat of a young farmer's car. He is driving, his aunt Laura and two men, Theo and Yaron are in the backseat. In exchange for lodging they are helping Lucca, the farmer. Theo is French and speaks English and Italian, Yaron is a New Yorker, straight from the Bronx. We swim, dive in the water, and lie in the sand. We leave as the sun lowers, the shadows grow longer. We go home to Lucca’s house, where his mother is cooking pasta that his father and Theo have made earlier in the day. The farmer's mother boils it then adds sauteed zucchini from their garden. Once she's served the pasta we add olive oil and shaved parmigiana to our bowls.
No matter how many days I spend here I think I will eternally be surprised at how contentment comes with so little effort. And though Borseda is much emptier than it used to be, and though it is isolated and I'm without a car, I do not feel trapped or lonely. Friends have come easily and quickly. I've been overwhelmed by the famed generosity of the people. A jar of homemade pesto sits in my fridge, handed to me by a woman who after seeing me passing on the street a few times invited me to her terrace for coffee and cookies. And just as I finish editing this post, my neighbor Paolo calls me to his garden to hand me a tomato bigger than my hand.
The bedroom in late afternoon